A Little Halloween Treat ...
The Loveliness of Leaves

Out & About: Aquarium School!

It was back to Boston today for our marine science class at the New England Aquarium. First though, we had to get that online reading assignment done ... this month's theme: conservation and fisheries.


We got into the city a bit early so we stopped in at the famed Aquarium gift shop before class started. The boys spent a good deal of time checking out all the stuffed animals. Bookworm particularly liked the golden hammerhead shark. (Paging Santa!)


Penguins are a HUGE part of the Aquarium experience, and the gift shop definitely showcases them, as you can see from this giant stuffed penguin chick! Earlybird would love this, but we didn't even dare ask how much he cost!


I'm sure you know this, but penguins are big Patriots fans.

This is just a shot of the city from outside the Aquarium. I think I posted almost the exact same one last month, but it always takes my breath away when I see it.


Once our class got underway, the kids got down to work. Bookworm is in the older class (which my friend Lisa helps to chaperone) and Crackerjack is in the younger class (where my friend Beth and I help out). I am so glad I volunteered - I am learning so much!

Here is CJ with his friends, coloring pages of animals that might end up in fishing nets - swordfish, oysters and lobsters to name a few ...


And speaking of lobsters ~ we got to visit with one! (Side note: are my kids the only ones who insist on "saying hi" to the lobsters at the grocery store?)


Well today was their chance to really get up close and personal. We learned all about them - their color range, their life span and fishing regulations regarding their size. This particular lobster was six years old, a lifetime resident of the Aquarium. The oldest lobster on record was 100 years old! Who knows how old lobsters in the wild can grow to be.


Here we have a demonstration of a lobster trap in action (complete with lobster puppets). It was fascinating to learn how the traps were invented - how fishermen realized the lobsters can get in and out with relative ease. Rather than build a smarter trap however, they just limit their catch to whatever ends up inside when the trap gets pulled.

We learned a bit about the history of lobsters too - how they were once considered cheap and unsavory and were fed mostly to prisoners (by law "only" three times a week!). Today of course they are an expensive (and delicious) delicacy.

Our teacher also showed us how a buoy works, and explained that if a buoy comes loose, the trap is lost. Fortunately the trap is secured with clasps that break down in the water, so it eventually all comes apart (letting loose any widlife).


The subject of this picture is very hard to see here, but there is a large fishing net suspended from that silver pole at the top of the shot. We were shown how the gills of a large fish get caught in the holes, but smaller fish can swim on through.

Such a net could possibly trap a dolphin however, a mammal which needs air after a time. To prevent this from happening, a pinger is set up, a small device that sits beneath the net and slowly and repeatedly "pings" a sharp sound (fueled by the natural electicity in the water). Dolphins have excellent hearing and avoid the rather annoying sound, and therefore the net traps as well.

Next we played a very interesting game, one that combined trivia questions based on our day's lessons and the concepts of overfishing ...


Each table began with a foil pan filled with a mixture of beans, raisins, popcorn and candy bars. These items represented fishing grounds and its stock. Each child was given an empty cup and a straw as fishing tools. On go, they were to use their straws to get as much of the stuff in the pan into their cups. It was harder than it looked, but after a few "fishing seasons" (30-second rounds) the pan was emptying. The teachers would come around and survey the "fishing grounds" assessing whether they had been overfished or not. If the stock was still plentiful, they added a bunch more back in, but if the stock had run low, they added only one or two more pieces (symbolizing diminishing populations).

By answering questions correctly the kids earned bonus points and the ability to upgrade their tools from straws to spoons. Now the pans were really getting emtpy!


To be honest, our table was getting highly distracted by the amount of chocolate being fished, lol. (Or more precisely, who had how many pieces and how many pieces were still left.)

By the way, I know I only have pictures of Crackerjack's class, but that's where I spend my time. I might have to ask Lisa to take pictures of the older group for me one month! Though the classes do follow, roughly, the same lesson plan, the materials are presented at grade level. Each class ranges in size from 18 to 20-odd students. All homeschoolers from all over the area.

Here's our gang, posing among the dolphins ...


Oh, and here are a few shots of urban wildlife on our way out ...


A Proper Bostonian Sparrow. ;)


And a gorgeous, um, seal (?) in an outdoor exhibit. (Please excuse my ignorance here, I didn't actually check to see what kind of animal this was - it could perhaps be a sea lion, or maybe a leopard seal. I really have no idea. I will verify next month.)

Oh, and I forgot to mention - we talked quite a bit about cod, a local and historic fish here in New England. A Sacred Cod hangs in the chamber of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and a golden cod hangs in front of our favorite restaurant. Seeing as how Legal's is a stone's throw from the Aquarium, I popped over for a quick snap:


And still speaking of cod, I picked up this fascinating book at the gift shop: The Cod's Tale. It will be a great way to extend our Aquarium School lessons at home.


So there's the Aquarium School report for this month! Next up: sharks!